Fallout 76 Thoughts

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If you have been completely disconnected from gaming media then you may not have known there was a pretty significant announcement yesterday from Bethesda, or at least a very tantalizing teaser.  The truth is this started several days ago when they began a live stream that simply focused on a color test pattern with a vault boy bobble head beside it.  During the stream various weird things happened and you can see a run down of these clips over on Polygon.  There were apparently over 2 million people who at least watched some of the stream and at the very end…  we were treated with a teaser for a new game called Fallout 76.

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This morning I am going to dig into some of the details of the trailer.  It opens on an old pipboy setting off an alarm that plays Take Me Home Country Roads which gives us I believe the location of the vault…  as 76 was rumored to be a “control” vault in Virginia.  The song itself says West Virginia… but the majority of the topography that it describes is actually in Western Virginia.  As the image continues to slide into frame we can see a clock denoting that it is October 27th of 2102…  6:34 in the morning if that matters.  This is significant because this places Fallout 76 is the earliest fallout game to date.  Here are some important dates in the fallout universe…

  • The Great War – Saturday October 23rd 2077
  • Fallout 76 Trailer – Monday October 27th 2102
  • Fallout 1 – 2161
  • Fallout 2 – 2241
  • Fallout 3 – 2277
  • Fallout New Vegas – 2281
  • Fallout 4 – 2287

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Basically Fallout 76 is taking place 25 years after The Great War that started and ended the same day as the bombs fell.  In theory Vault 76 was supposed to open 20 years after the destruction of the world so that folks could go reclaim the wastes.  So we are left with a conundrum…  because if you see the scene with the Reclamation Day celebration, it does not look like those are leftovers from 5 years ago.  If you look at the balloons there are some with air and some without…  so unless  balloons work vastly different in the post apocalyptic world that would lead me to believe this is a few days after the Reclamation Day party…. which would make a sort of sense given that it would be 5 days after the 25th anniversary of the Great War.

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There is a poster on the wall showing that Vault 76 was created to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the founding of the United States, which syncs up with the Mothership Zeta references from Fallout 3.  Past that I am not sure what else can be gleaned about it other than I just think its cool to see all of the things we have found from other games still in a relatively new state.  Granted 25 years have passed but I think in the most part we are seeing a vault before the systems start to break down.  In truth probably the same Overseer is in place that was put there the moment the folks went into the vault, and most of the administration is likely all the same.  Sure there might have been some children of the vault in that time frame but for the most part the people who are exiting are the ones who entered in the first place.  According to the Citadel records there were supposedly 500 individuals in the control vault giving you a nice big number of potential people to go out exploring the wastes as.

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In this shot you see Jangles the Moon Monkey and on the bed is a fedora and a fully loaded backpack, which tells me that we are seeing the player character just about to embark out of the vault, gathering up their stuff.  This syncs up with the final shot in the trailer of a person in a Vault 76 jumpsuit slapping on a pipboy…  likely the one from the table and preparing to leave.  Again most of these establishing shots seem to exist for fan service, so we can see what the vault looks like before things start going to hell.  All of the things we regularly pick up as junk are shown…  from an Abraxo box to some Sugar Bombs…  and of course the ever present Nuka-Cola.

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There is a trophy case that is way too blurry to read at 1080 p or lower resolution, but I was able to crank the video up to 4k and capture a decent shot of what at least one of the awards says.

Outstanding Achievement Award

In appreciation for your commitment and dedication to our isolation program.  Sacrificing many so some can live.

The Excellence in Bravery award is a little harder to read but it seems very similar… and you can notice at the top of the shot an award for the “Annual Vault Halloween Costume Contest” which I guess might explain why there is the head of what looks to be some sort of a gopher mascot character on the top of the bookcase in the image with the 1776-2076 poster.

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So ultimately what does all of this mean?  This is a new Fallout setting that is far enough out of band with the rest of the games…  as to give it some legs to stand on its own.  This is set 59 years before Fallout 1 the earliest entry in the franchise and 185 years earlier than Fallout 4 the latest incarnation.  Jason Schreier the Game Developer Whisperer mentioned yesterday that the game would have some sort of an online component, and that this is what the Battlecry team in Austin has been working on.

A follow up tweet provides some additional details…

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To make things even weirder…  there is an Anonymous redditor on December 28th of 2017 posted “Fallout 76, a fallout themed rust clone coming soon”.  This was largely ignored by the community however because who the hell trusts an anonymous poster on reddit?  There have been so many things supposedly leaked there that turned out to be complete bullshit.  However in hindsight…  the person got the title right and if you combine that with the various comments from Schreier it has a little more weight to it.  I guess the ultimately question is… is that a game I really want to play?  I have never been a huge fan of the Rust/Ark/H1Z1 competitive survival game genre, so I think ultimately for me… it will depend on how much forced player versus player interaction is in the game.  If there are straight PVE servers (or the ability to roll custom servers)… then yeah I will probably be happy as a clam to play this game.

Unfortunately I think I would have rather had just a straight MMORPG conversion of the Fallout universe ala Elder Scrolls Online than some sort of a survival building game.  If I was putting on my wishing hat and going for broke…  I would have loved for Fallout 76 to be a small scale group/solo game along the lines of Destiny/The Division set in the Fallout universe, where you roam around a big open world wasteland with MMO style player progression but a more drop in/drop out sort of ethic and seamless 10-20 player instanced pockets.  Sure base building would have been probably a big part of that given they have really amazing tech to let us have essentially “player housing” but the focus would be on exploration and completing of story content rather than on killing other players.  I really hope the progression is not based on killing other players.

I’ve devoted entirely too much time this morning to tearing into this…  so what are your thoughts?  Are you excited for the June 10th pre-E3 Bethesda press conference?  Are you excited about the prospects of Fallout 76?  Are you afraid this is going to be another fucking Battle Royale game?  I have some mixed thoughts after more additional information has come out about it, but that said… I will still be watching on twitch as the official announcements are being made.

 

In Home Streaming

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I have what one might call unusual needs when it comes to gaming.  My primary gaming systems are all up in my office hooked up to the same 43 inch 4k television that I have written about in the past.  That said I maintain a laptop downstairs that I can game on while hanging out on the sofa with my wife and either watching television or just functionally being in the same room.  This has been one of the secrets of our marital bliss is the fact that several nights a week I hang out downstairs within easy talking distance rather than being completely sequestered up in my office all of the time.  This means that I ultimately need to maintain two different gaming setups and end up splitting resources between the two of them.

The biggest issue with this equation is that gaming laptops are horrible.  What I mean by that is that while yes they are more powerful than a normal laptop…  they also have a greatly stripped down feature set of a gaming desktop.  They usually run some sort of mobile specific version of a graphics card…  which tends to perform roughly the same as one product generation lower.  What I mean by that is my current gaming laptop has a 960M in it…  which instead of performing like a GTX 960 it performs far closer to a GTX 760 (given that they jumped the 8 series of cards).  Similarly the processors also suffer from this same issue with a mobile i7 greatly under performing a desktop i7.  Then of course there is the fact that you are ultimately going to pay a significant premium for a machine that is pretending to be extremely high powered but that is a whole other discussion.

One of the core problems that I am dealing with right now is I am starting to reach the end of the viability of this laptop for any sort of modern gaming.  Sure it can run older games just fine and does an admirable job at a lot of the MMORPGs that I enjoy playing, but I have a long string of games that just will not function on the device.  The first game I encountered like this was Dishonored 2… which I still have not finished playing through because it simply will not run in anything other than the most potato of resolutions on the laptop.  Traditionally the downstairs experience is where I play a lot of my single player titles…  and with the inability to actually do this thing games like Dishonored and Assassin’s Creed Origins that will not run on the laptop at all just sit there un-played.

Steam In-Home streaming I thought originally was going to be a unique tool that I could employ to stream games from my Desktop to my Laptop and be able to skirt all of these problems.  However after years of piddling with it… I still have issues.  There are times where a game window may get stranded or launch in a weird resolution and with that not being an actual remote desktop tool there is little way to right the ship once it capsizes.  I’ve read of individuals having good luck with Splashtop desktop/streamer but the latency there was so high that I simply could not handle it and now only use it as a way of remoting in to the gaming machine if I am absolutely in a desperate state.  Even if I could get Steam In-Home streaming working…  there was always the problem of not being able to easily run all of those games that I have that for one reason or another do not go through the client (I am looking at you Dragon Age Inquisition).

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This is where in my travels yesterday I happened across a mention of a product called Parsec.  The company effectively does a couple of different things, the first being rent virtual boxes that you can use to install all of your games on out in the cloud and then remotely connect to.  The second is that they have very highly tuned and low latency streaming software that allows you to connect to a machine, be it one of their virtual machines or your home machine and play games off it.  Lastly they add additional functionality of being able to play the couch co-op experience remotely through a social and online play system.  While I was supremely jaded by my other experiences I gave it a shot last night.

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The setup is pretty straight forward in that it requires you to install the parsec client on the host machine and the client machine.  They have clients for Windows, MacOS, Android, Linux and Raspberry Pi 3…  which gives you a few options for even creating your own homebrew Steamlink sort of device for streaming to a television.  For me I wanted a pretty straight forward set up of installing the software on my gaming desktop upstairs and adding it as a host…  that you can see in the client above.  Yes I named my gaming desktop Serenity…  I love me some Firefly.  Then downstairs on my laptop I installed the client again but this time just connected to the Serenity computer profile by hitting play.  Immediately I was presented with a remote desktop like experience that allowed me to pretty much launch whatever the hell I wanted to on my machine.

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It was at this point that I just started testing all sorts of  games… I played some Crucible in Destiny 2 with no noticeable input delay in a fashion that was comfortable enough to actually do competitive tasks.  I played some Dauntless where I took down the stupid thunder lizard Drask that had been giving me fits before.  Essentially any game that I launched was able to run just fine and in a completely playable and honestly beautiful state.  I had some issues with Steam games at first, but after troubleshooting that came down to something I had done yesterday in trying to set up my iPad as a third monitor.  Apparently the software that is involved with that does not play nicely with the Steam DRM.  However after uninstalling and rebooting all of those steam games that I struggled with before like Dishonored 2 and Assassin’s Creed Origins worked lovely as well.

I am known for doing some silly things… but there is a level of madness with Parsec that I am not entirely sure if I am willing to go through.  They have a blog post up outlining how they have managed to get a console working through the Parsec software and I would absolutely try this…  if it did not involve two hardware purchases that I do not currently have.  I have been wanting to get an Elgato Pro…  so this might be something I do at some point.  This would honestly be the perfect set up if I could somehow get all of my consoles playing through Parsec as well.  I have wanted a sort of virtual KVM for consoles for years…  and in theory I might be able to actually make this thing to work using Parsec.  If nothing else however I thought I would talk about my experiences this morning in case someone else out there is looking to do something similar.  I am greatly pleased with this process and I play on fiddling around with it some more tonight…  maybe actually working on some of those single player games that I have failed to make much progress in.  At face value though… I am supremely impressed with Parsec and will definitely be following their updates.

Coping Mechanism

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I had originally thought I would end up writing a big post this morning about my thoughts regarding the Dauntless launch.  Instead however I am writing a different post because reasons.  This weekend was mostly about recuperation for me personally given that last week was an extremely stressful one and due to the condensed nature of the coming week I expect it to be equally stressful.  As a result you are getting a picture of my goofy upside-down Kenzie girl to kick off this post.  The weekend was odd given that we spent a significant amount of time looking at cheap laptops and scouring their details.  I wrote a bit about this on twitter but my wife has a need for something new to travel with, at least in part because she cannot synchronize her FitBit with her android phone alone.  She has explored all of the avenues available through the manufacturer and she is basically stuck until at some point when she gets a new phone because for whatever reason it just doesn’t work on hers.

The problem that I find infuriating is that she has a long list of asks but doesn’t really want to pay much money for any of them.  There were folks on twitter who asked what that list entailed so I figured I would kick off this mornings post by trying to catalog all of it.

  • Windows 10 based device
  • 3 or more USB ports
  • Non-Streaming device (streambooks are out)
  • 11 to 13 inch in size
  • extremely lightweight preferably in the 2 lb range
  • preferably as thin as possible
  • 2-in-1 Touchscreen device if possible
  • real hard drive space – 500 gb or more
  • two finger scrolling on touchpad – pinch and zoom a plus
  • cheap…  she doesn’t want to spend more than a couple hundred bucks

Now I can find devices with all or at least most of those features…  but it is generally that last piece that completely destroys the process.  You can’t get much of a machine for only a couple hundred bucks.  We spent a good chunk of yesterday for example going to a couple different Best Buy locations and checking out their open box machines.  Sadly Craigslist has not exactly be a hotbed of listings for what she is wanting either, and we don’t really have any good aftermarket “wholesale” options…  the one we do have tends to be a scam.  So as a result my weekend was a constant string of looking at things my wife linked me and having to diagnose what the weakness in every option was.  Do you know how infuriating it is to try and diagnose the equivalent speed of a bunch of low end market processors?  The problem is she is coming from a Chromebook right now as her travel machine… and I am afraid she isn’t going to find a “real” laptop that is anywhere near as portable.

This weekend we recorded a podcast as usual, but towards the tail end of the show we got into one of the more dark and raw topics we have discussed.  I queued up the YouTube link to start round about when the conversation happens.  Prior to starting up we kicked around the notion of recording a bit about using games as a means of escape from real world problems.  This was largely kicked in because it seems like this is something fairly new to Kodra…  but man did it take a more serious and extreme bent because Grace and I are pros at using games to escape the anxiety and stress of the real world.  My good friend Nyn mentioned that this might be a decent topic to talk about in blog form so here I am doing this today.  First off one of the things you need to know about me is that while I might seem to have my shit together on a regular basis…  I am consistently teetering on the edge of a breakdown.  I go through these periods of “turtle mode” that I have talked a bit before on the blog about where I extract myself from the world and try and pretend that it no longer exists.  Twitter tends to be the only social network I can regularly engage with… and even then it is largely because even when I am saying words…  it feels like I am doing so at comfortably arms length.  I can drop a comment that I want to make into the ether… and then walk away choosing whether or not I actually interact with anything that comes from it.  Even then favoriting a comment has become this sort of minimum unit of interaction that I can still reasonably do even when I don’t have a lot of words to say in return.

The problem comes with the fact that I can only really handle chaos in one of my environments at once.  What I mean by that is I need some sense of change free stability in the three environments that I interact with:  home life, gaming/internet and work.  The longer one of those goes into a state of disrepair…  the more likely it is going to trigger a turtle phase when I for lack of a better term “literally can’t even”.  The problem that I am dealing with right now is my work is undergoing some massive chaos as part of a restructuring, and just being social and supporting in that environment drains me of all available energy to where I come home a husk of a human being.  My home life also has been chaos…  because the teacher walkouts required me to step up and take over almost all of the home care burden because my wife was left trying to condense an entire years worth of training in a very short abbreviated schedule.  This has continued because she is still in school and staring down the barrel of having to go way longer than normal…  and get out without any real time to prepare for her long summer trip to grade AP exams.

My gaming life has also been in turmoil because I am finding it extremely hard to really stick with any one game for any length of time.  For the last decade I have had this rich community that relied on me to play games with… either in the form of House Stalwart or later AggroChat and the offshoot Greysky Armada.  The problem here is that I seem to want to play games that are not nearly as sticky with that community as a whole.  When we started recording AggroChat we were a combination of east coast and central time zone players, and over time three of the six of us have moved to Seattle leaving a massive gulf of time between our regular playing schedules.  Grace suffers from the same sort of periods of “unable to deal with humans” that I do, and Thalen has largely been knocked out of the mix as he enters parenthood.  This chaos has basically decimated all of the normal patterns of game play that I have been used to…  essentially throwing that world into chaos as well.

Then there is the internet as a whole… which has been a relatively horrible place to be with events that started with GamerGate but have continued forward with Police Violence, Trump and School Shootings and everything in between.  I just don’t have enough free bandwidth to care anymore.  There are so many things that I know I should feel passionately or deeply about… but I am just numb.  So just the act of trying to go to my happy place that used to my by twitter timeline…  is an act that takes so much effort to keep from running screaming into the night.  The thing is… it isn’t like I could just disconnect that one social feed and be okay…  because the problems are everywhere.  Even NPR another one of my bastions of sanity is no longer a place that gives me more good than it takes from me to just keep listening.  So as a result… when these turtle modes kick in it seems like it takes me way longer to get out of them than I used to… because my entire world feels like it is in an amorphous state of change.

Ultimately I need gaming as a sort of crutch to get me through all of this.  Even though it is harder and harder for me to reach that ascendant state… I still need to try and find a place where I can escape from all of the horrible nonsense happening in the real world and blend into an environment where I can in fact right the wrongs and be the hero I wish I could be in real life.  Playing games and trying to shut off the noise in my brain while doing so… has become my primary way of coping with existing in the world.  I don’t sleep well, and often sleep in hour or two hour bursts scattered between the hours of 10 pm and 5 am, and I think in some ways…  gaming is filling the role that deep sleep might be of keeping me sane.  I am not even sure if that makes any sense, but by zoning out completely while gaming it allows my brain to enter a world where muscle memory is taking over and I can relax completely.  Ultimately it allows me to rebuild the walls that keep my psyche safe from the constant onslaught of existence so that I can keep going one more day.

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Since this has been another fairly dark post… I figure I would end things with another of my adorable cats.  This is Mollie and she is still not 100% sure what she thinks of the world.  She will follow me around the house but is still super skittish when it comes to directed attention.  At the time of taking this picture she was having none of my shit.  Then moments after I put the phone away… she was up and running around and following me like a little lost puppy.  She is a weird cat, but then again all of my babies are a bit odd in their own special ways.  The thing is with this post…  I am opening up about my struggles because in part I want you to see that it is perfectly okay to have issues.  We all have them and mine are built up from years of other issues that I don’t really want to go into in blog form.  Basically we are all weird and broken in some manner and the most important thing… is that you find your own way of regenerating the damage that has been dealt so that you can keep putting one foot in front of the other.  The salve for my wounds is gaming… and if I flake out on you when I just can’t handle human contact…  I am sorry.

QueenBee Error

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Yesterday was one of those days.  I started trying to leave work around 4:30 but as I was literally locking my machine…  I had a person come into my office that needed to talk through a problem with me.  Then at 4:50 when that person left…  I was not fast enough and another slid in with similar things that needed to be talked through.  Finally around 5:20 I was walking out the door, and got snagged by someone I passed in the hall to help deal with another problem.  This all meant that I did not actually get out the door until roughly 6…  which meant by the time I ran the errands I needed to and picked up meds for one of our animals from the vet I did not get home until after 7.  By the time I dealt with watering flowers, feeding cats, changing the ferret playpen and then dealing with the dinner I had picked up on the way home…  it was at a minimum 7:30 before I actually sat down in front of a machine and began the process of attempting to download Dauntless.

I had every hope in the world of finally being able to try this game out, because while yes I played it briefly during Pax South…  I knew nothing about how to play a Monster Hunter game at that point.  It was my hope that given my indoctrination into the genre with Monster Hunter World, that the experience of playing Dauntless would be more enjoyable.  The above screenshot represents the furthest I have made it into the game yet, and I don’t even know if there is additional patching that needs to happen once you actually successfully log in.  When I finally made it in last night the game itself was in maintenance mode because I am guessing they did not have a very good launch day.  Phoenix Labs can call yesterday the beginning of Open Beta, but if you have already publicly stated that there will be no wipes from this point onwards…  then you have effectively launched your game.

Launches are extremely rough and it seems like everything was on fire last night for them as their status page denoted problems with almost every subsystem.  This unfortunately does not give a whole lot of confidence given that one of the few takeaways I have heard over and over is that the game in general had “performance problems” in closed testing.  Based on last night I am guessing it still technically has a lot of performance issues or more importantly scaling issues for the sort of sucker punch that is opening the floodgates to the unwashed masses like myself.  The game seems interesting but I am not sure if it is going to get more than a passing curiousity from me since I already have Monster Hunter World, and could be devoting that time towards Generations for the upcoming Switch release of Generations Ultimate.

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What I ended up playing instead is Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon which I got for free as a kickstarter backer of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night.  This game is essentially a prequel to Ritual of the Night as far as I can tell and lays some of the background for the setting.  It also serves to be an amazing re-imagining of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse in that it allows you to swap between a cast of characters as you make your way through the game and find them.  Right now it should be available on a wide variety of platforms in their E-Shop for roughly $10.  I personally got my free copy on Steam and then turned around and immediately purchased it on the Switch as well.  It is also available however on 3DS, PS4 and Xbox One so for the most part you can get it on any platform.  The game very much has an authentic Nintendo 8-Bit era feel to it…  right up until you reach the boss fights.  The sprites that are moving around are way to large for the memory buffers of that era, but I am more than willing to suspend my disbelief and just go with it.  I wish I had taken a better screenshot but this is of me playing the Zangetsu character just a little ways into act two.  Well worth checking out if you were a fan of Castlevania at all.

Encampment

This is one of those mornings where you are going to have to suffer one of my dreams.  I had a fairly weird one last night… or at least the last dream I dreamt of the evening was odd.  I was at some sort of a video game convention along the lines of Pax…  because really that is the only one I have first person experience of and as a result in my brain all video game conventions look a lot like Pax South.  Pax has this whole bring your own computer area where folks do just that and set up camp for the weekend, and I believe that is one of the cardinal draws of places like Quake Con in Dallas…  the promise of a giant LAN Party.  In my dream this convention went a whole new step and sorta allowed people to set up camp for the week literally.

For whatever reason I was there with a mix of people from my work and people I know from the internet and a few people that I only recognize as faces I probably saw on youtube.  We had commandeered one of the corners of a large building and literally had vehicles parked creating this box of sorts to denote the boundary of our camp like some sort of a protective wall.  There was a space where the cars didn’t completely meet together in the middle and that is how we got in and out of the encampment.  Inside the area we marked off were a bunch of sleeping options and a cluster of desks making a computer lab of sorts.

Some folks were sleeping in the backseat of vehicles, others in hammocks…  a few people in a pickup bed…  and a few more on the roof of the vehicles as well as a few traditional tents.  Now mind you…  this is inside of a convention center building with its high ceilings and soulless utilitarian walls.  None of this makes any sense at all, especially the next bit.  These are folks from my work…  but none of them are aware of the whole “Belghast” thing and the blog or the podcast…  yet I am trying to sneak time to cover the convention for said blog and podcast.

Towards the end of the weekend one of the people that I don’t actually know who they are… but are apparently part of this madness finds out and keeps it on the down low for me.  The convention eventually ends and and we have to start breaking camp… and the first thing to move are the vehicles.  One of which apparently has lost a fuse of some sort and while they were able to get it out to the parking lot were not dead in the water.  So the last thing I remember before waking up for the alarm this morning was sifting through piles of tech debris looking for a fuse.

None of it really makes sense but I think it hints at something weird about my life.  I don’t tell anyone I know in my actual life about my online persona or any of the things I do with it.  I am weirdly secretive about it because I am not really sure how “normal people” would react to such things.  It is just weird to have this thing in my life that I don’t feel like i can really talk about to anyone except people I may never actually meet from the gaming/blogging community.  There are a lot of things I have done or accomplished that I should feel proud about, but that I don’t really feel like I can…  because I don’t think people would actually understand any of this.

I wonder how much of my anxiety and general dysfunction centers around the fact that I in essence have a secret life.  I mean obviously I share it with my wife and she supports the nonsense that I do here…  even if she does not fully understand it either.  There is a general angst about being “found out” even though I really don’t have anything worth hiding.  Everyone has a thing in their life that isn’t quite like what folks would expect.  One of my co-workers is super into model trains… and somehow that feels way more normal than anything I do.  I realize this is mostly an age thing and I grew up in a generation where gaming was an affliction to grow out of and not something to be embraced other than among your closest circle of friends in a dimly lit room somewhere.

This is an odd post, but it is the sort of things I have been mulling over in my head this morning.

 

Backyard and Banana

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Last night was a pretty chill night and was spent either gaming or hanging out on the patio off our bedroom.  Here is a photo from my chair as I waited to top off the pool and played Monster Hunter Generations.  There was a nice breeze and it was making the wind chimes do all sorts of happy sounds.  My wife was hanging beside me doing school work…  because unfortunately it is both hobby and job rolled all in one.  I love our backyard even though I don’t spend anywhere near as much time as she does out in it.  Last night however was a perfect storm of overcast and cool which is about my sweet spot for outdoors.  My eyes are super sensitive to light and there are times where while I am sitting in the shade… the world itself is just too bright for my tastes.  The flowerbabies of course are doing okay still, and I need to wrap up this post soon so I can go out and give them all a drink.

As far as Monster Hunter Generations…  I am largely playing it over 4 Ultimate because of the impending release of Generations Ultimate for the Switch.  Monster Hunter is way too complicated a game for me to really enjoy playing it on a tiny screen with a thinkpad trackpoint nub serving as my second thumbstick.  That said I do know that whatever effort I make is going to transfer over to the Switch so it feels like it is allowing me to have a bit of a headstart as it were.  There are still three months until the release of Generations Ultimate and that gives me some time to casually work on leveling my Palicos and progressing through the quests to a point where I might not be completely on ground one at launch on August 28th.  I am super looking forward to having a newish to me Monster Hunter experience to sink my teeth into…  that I will be able to play on my 43 inch monitor upstairs.

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The tail end of the evening I settled into playing some Iron Banner in Destiny 2 as I had not honestly played much of that since Curse of Osiris.  I am nowhere near as good at Crucible as I once was because I am simply out of practice, but then again I never was terribly good in the first place.  I did manage to turn in a couple of packages, one of which getting me the Auto Rifle that looks like Scathelocke.  I am super pumped about it because firstly I love Auto Rifles and secondly…  I had really wanted to try that weapon out and was afraid that I lost my chance when the season changed.  There is another auto rifle available as faction rewards so I am wondering if I want to try grinding out 30 packages…  and I pretty much figure the answer is no.  I do however want the super high rate of fire weapon because it has auto loading holster and high impact rounds and seems like a much better version of Perseverance/Valakadyn…  which are both weapons that I hated on the console but have come to enjoy with a mouse and keyboard.

I have significant problems with Destiny 2… but damn does that mechanical loop still feel fun.

State of Decay 2 Impressions

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This morning as I alluded to yesterday morning…  I am going to talk a bit about my experiences with State of Decay 2.  This game is officially released today, but has been out for anyone who pre-ordered the game since last Friday the 18th.  Now I had every intent of playing this game on the Xbox One, in part because I really did not want the Windows Store nonsense in my life.  This game has been funded in part by Microsoft and as a result they have made a bit of an exclusivity grab forcing it to be released on the Xbox One console and the Windows Store initially…  though I assume at some point in the future it will also be available on the more important storefront of PC gaming…  Steam.  When you buy the game however you are essentially purchasing two copies and can shift back and forth between console and PC through cloud saves.  This is a fact I am super glad about…  but I will get into that more closely in a few minutes.

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I preloaded State of Decay 2 on my Xbox One and last Friday night when I got home from work I fired it up hoping to lose myself in the zombie filled world.  This however was what I was greeted with…  a muddy mess.  Unfortunately a number of my attempts to save screenshots on the Xbox One failed but the game was filled with a number of glitches and extremely poor textures.  It honestly felt like maybe I was back playing a game on the Xbox 360 which was a bit shocking as I had already at this point seen footage recorded on the Xbox One X.  Therein lies the problem I feel…  that maybe Undead Labs was directed to really push that 4k gaming version on the more powerful console…  and as a result those of us with vanilla Xbox One consoles are going to have a sub par experience.  On top of the look…  there were issues where the HUD would just start flickering for no apparent reason and there was a moment when my health bar and map widget disappeared completely.  There was absolutely no way I could stomach playing the game in this state and I started to get extremely sad and frustrated.

Upon logging out that Friday night I opted to swallow my pride and install the Windows Store client…  which honestly is something I had hoped never to do.  Has I been able to make the  Xbox version work, I would have waited until I could play it on Steam before installing it on the PC…  and in truth if that option comes up along the line I might take it.  I love Undead Labs the company, but I hate this deal with Microsoft they have crafted because I am a Steam and PS4 guy…  not a Microsoft ecosystem guy.  Thankfully for my sake after installing the Windows client the game immediately downloaded my most current save file and I was up and running in windows in pretty short time picking up exactly where I left off on the console.  Now this might be a really great option for people who want to be able to shift back and forth between the two platforms.  For me both my consoles and my gaming PC are sitting side by side and I use the same monitor for both…  so it doesn’t really save me much.

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For point of reference… I am running State of Decay 2 in 4k resolution with the High default options and manage to get a pretty stable 60 fps on my GTX 980…  which honestly tells me on the Windows side at least this is a pretty optimized client.  I’ve scaled down the images to 1080p resolution for the purpose of posting on this blog so just some things to keep in mind as you read the post (and in truth I think the wordpress content network scales them down further).  State of Decay 2 is above all else a game about building a community and trying to make that community thrive.  You start the game with one of several pairs of survivors that each have some sort of a unique link between them…  some are partners, some siblings, some just good friends…  all trying to survive in a zombie infested world.  This takes place in the same ecosystem that the first game did and you occasionally hear remnants of the same network of survivors that existed in the original and “YOSE”.

Your first step upon completing the tutorial is of course to build your base…  or in this case just take something over that looks fortify-able.    The icon on the map that looks sorta like the Arc De Triomphe is what denotes a stronghold that you can choose to move your base into.  Also in the above screenshot you can see a number of meters along the top part of the screen denoting the stability of your base and the sort of resources you have gathered…  which left to right represent Food, Medicine, Ammunition, Building Materials and Fuel.  These become extremely important to making your base work as they serve both as a resource to augment the functionality of the base by building new facilities…  but also serve as resources that are constantly depleting through the actions your community members are taking.

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There is a constant push to go out into the wasteland and search for new resources to take home to your base.  Gone are the sea of vehicles that you can drive around in endlessly and those two now serve as a sacred resource you need to gather up and horde, each with a very limited fuel capacity and range.  The game now differentiates between resources you find for yourself and can store in the communal shared inventory…  and packs full of resources that you find and have to take back to base and place in the material storage.  Similar to the first game you can only carry one of these packs at a time, but with the advent of vehicles being a limited resource…  we instead get the ability to store resources in them to make hauling things back to base a little easier.  As you approach a vehicle you can open the trunk…  even if a vehicle doesn’t have a trunk like a truck.  From there you can store up multiple packs allowing you to drive around and ferry a large number of resources back to base in a single trip.

Additionally you have the ability to claim almost every building as an outpost.  In the above screenshot you can see in orange that Swine & Bovine serves as a food collection resource, meaning that if I were to claim it as an outpost it would start sending back food every day to my community.  Similarly I managed to find a power station that upon claiming gave my base power as a resource, allowing me to start unlocking all sorts of electrical perks.  The cool thing about outposts is that they stay claimed even if you decide to pick up base and move elsewhere when you outgrow your previous home.  Right now my goal is to try and claim outposts in the major quadrants of the map allowing access to always have a safe spot nearby that I can unload my packs or pick up additional resources if I need to.

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State of Decay 2 is a bit of an odd game because much like Destiny 2… if you told me it was simply a patch to the original game I would probably believe you.  Under the hood however I know it is a complete ground up rebuild of the game in a completely different engine, and that process has netted a much better version of the same game we have loved since the Xbox Live Arcade days.  The game is State of Decay but with all of the things about the first game polished a bit more.  Sure there are still some janky moments, but those are fewer and less severe and the end result at least on the Windows client is a very smooth and even experience.  The combat feels better and more purposeful, and while the zeds still occasionally get cheap shots in… it feels like you can control the flow of combat a bit better with dodges and kicks to intersperse into your rapid button mashing of melee attacks.

More than the melee however… the Gunplay feels so much better.  In the original State of Decay the best weapon seemed to be the shotgun… because everything else felt extremely inaccurate and I wound up needing to fire way more rounds than I would have wanted…  summoning an endless horde of the undead to attack me.  Gone are the random zombies that seem to warp into view from out of nowhere, and instead is a more strategic experience.  If you want to take down an infestation…  you can roam around the outside of the location picking off the stragglers to reduce the number of zeds that are going to come running the moment the action really starts.  This feels so much better as compared to SoD1 where just firing a gun would cause a string of roamers to simply spawn into the map.

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Weapons with suppressors like the one shown above slung to this characters pack also feel amazing, allowing you to pick off zombies at a distance.  What is awesome about this is they also serve as a bit of a distractionary measure because the gun fire doesn’t draw notice of the zeds…  but they are momentarily attracted to the sound of a body hitting the ground.  This offers some situations where you can pick off an entire horde a single shot at a time because they will keep swarming the location of where the last body fell, allowing you to line up the next shot.  There are also all manner of explosives this time around that really help when trying to take out the other big new thing in this game…  Plague Hearts.  One of the weird things about SoD1 is that your character could die, but you would never actually turn into a zombie.  Now in SoD2 there is something called the Blood Plague and the red eyed zombies from the first game…  now exhibit the infection with pustules on their body and seeping blood from their skin.

Getting hit by one of these increases a meter that you can see in the Swine & Bovine shot above, that effectively is the increase in the infection until you are ultimately overcome and turn into a mega zombie that your other characters can then take out.  The doctor that you find during the tutorial has a cure for the blood plague, but it involves killing plague zombies and collecting samples…  which in truth is something you are going to have to do pretty often in the game…  meaning you have a nearly endless supply of cure.  Scattered around the map are a number of Plague Heart locations where the plague is emanating from, and taking down one of these requires a ton of fire power… or sufficient explosives.  While you are attacking it the plague zombies are constantly swarming the location to protect it…  but fortunately upon killing it all plague zombies in the surrounding vicinity are killed.

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At this point I have moved from the small base I started to a fairly large hill side church that is pretty centrally located.  Similarly I have managed to upgrade a few of the vehicles that I found laying around in the wastes into proper zombie killing apocalypse machines that can now take the abuse of running things over.  I am pretty damned hooked on this game and I have a handful of survivors that I like quite a bit…  but I am in constant fear of being overrun and I spend a good deal of my time roaming around and taking out infestations to try my best to keep this from happening.  The larger your base gets the more often it gets attacked and as a result I find myself swapping characters regularly in an effort to build each of them up enough to where they are pretty skilled at defending the base when I am not there.

One of my nitpicks with the game however is that there really isn’t much that you can do to properly fortify your base from the zombies.  You will have these huge concrete walls with spikes on them… like you can see in the background of this shot…  but the gates are flimsy and can be beat down by a single zombie allowing them easy entrance into your base as soon as they get close.  I wish we had more options for doing things to actively fortify our bases, like digging moats or setting up spike traps to guard the entrances.  We are exhibiting the same bad ideas that Walking Dead did when they decided a chain link fence around a prison was good protection…  and ultimately found out the same thing that we are finding out with these garden gates on everything.  Like if I could fortify the gates and know that the only way in and out of the base was to hop the fence I would be completely okay with this.  In fact in my first location I did this purposefully to keep from having to open the gate and potentially let a straggler in with me.

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Ultimately Undead Labs has made a really worthy sequel to the first game.  It essentially fine tunes and improves upon so many of the things from the original, and provides enough new game play to make it enjoyable for me to roam around and experience everything again.  I’ve not really touched the multiplayer yet so I can’t really speak to it.  I know it runs on a guest/host type setup where you are dragging one of your community members into another players game and as the guest get very limited access to their resources.  One of the big things to think about when looking at this game is that it is not really a story drive experience.  Sure there is a tutorial that touches on some of the high points of the world and explains what the new plague zombies are…  but after that you are pretty much on your own to find your own reasons for playing.  Instead it is a big of a story engine in that a bunch of events are going to happen and how you deal with them… creates a personal narrative of how your group is interacting with this society.

You will meet other communities… some of which are friendly and willing to trade with you and others will just want to take what you have.   For example I have made friends with a group of moonshiners who taught me how to make a still…  which weirdly generates water for your base as a limited resource.  You are also constantly hearing calls for help out in the wastes that either lead to reputation with other communities or occasionally the ability to recruit new members to yours.  It is a really fun gameplay loop and last night I sat down around 7 and did not get back up until around 9:30…  and during all of that time I was finding just one more thing to do out in the wastes.  If you need a story to keep you focused however you might find the game play experience a bit of a grind.  Personally however I love this game and it is ultimately everything I wanted for them to give me in sequel form.

Flowerbabies Return

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The last month and some change has been insane for both myself and my wife.  The teacher walkout and protests at the state capitol caused the tail end of the school year to be compressed in a way that had my wife either lesson planning on the fly or grading mounds of paperwork each night.  There were many weekends where she started work on Friday night then continued it through Saturday and Sunday and still had a bunch of stuff left over to do to carry over into the next week.  My own life has been slight madness because stuff has been happening at work that initially did not effect me…  but has triggered some musical chairs as folks change positions throughout the department.  While we managed to get our backyard largely in functional order over spring break weekend, we held off on doing the flowers thing since we were expecting a few more freezes.

Finally it is time for “flowerbabies” as I ultimately refer to them.  Tam gave me a bit of shit this weekend before the podcast saying something along the lines of “people will personify anything” but they are my babies.  I water them and care for them and they bloom so pretty for the rest of the summer as a result.  It becomes part of my morning routine of making sure they are happy and well and have sufficient moisture to keep them functioning.  I’m a nurturing person and this year we have some amazing flowers that come from a bunch of different locations.  We spent most of Saturday roaming around and looking at various options hitting I think ten different places before gathering up the plants that we wound up walking away with.  Our backyard does not have a lot of natural spots for flower beds so instead we mostly do hanging baskets.

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At some point I still need to treat all of the petunias for the nasty caterpillars we managed to get a few years back.  I have the bacteria mixed up in a spray bottle so I can just mist them a few times during the season and hopefully everything will be good.  It seemed to work last season and we did not have a repeat of the year when we had the pretty but damaging pink worms on all the flowers.   In our travels we came across at least one cursed object in the form of these planters outside of a Walmart Neighborhood Market.  There is just something about them that screams Walmart doesn’t it?  I am not entirely sure why anyone would get these but if you can see from the display there are several missing.  There is part of me that wants to buy one just to mess with my wife…  but then I would ultimately end up taking care of a plant in this hideous shell because I could never bring myself to just let it die.

Apart from the backyard I spent a significant amount of time playing State of Decay 2 but didn’t feel like I had enough time this morning to do it justice.  If you absolutely want to know my thoughts and feeling about the game right now…  then I suggest you listen to this weekends AggroChat since I lead off with a discussion about what I like and dislike.  I’m not going to go into much more detail here yet because I fully expect that tomorrows post will be my big “thoughts” piece about it.

Cat Fountains

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My eldest cat Allie does not want me to write a blog post for you this morning.  I mean I guess it is fine given that I did’t have an awful lot to talk about anyways.  I’ve been in this weird gaming slump that I have been in many times before… of not really being super excited about anything I happen to be playing right now.  I’m largely splitting time this week between Destiny 2 and dinking around on the Void Elf Hunter in World of Warcraft.  Neither of which are things I am terribly excited to be talking about.  Tonight however I hope to be playing State of Decay 2 on the Xbox One and may or may not have things to say about it come Monday.

As for the cat impeding my progress…  this morning for some reason she has kept crawling up into my arms any time I paused for even a moment.  She does this occasionally where she just wants constant attention and I never can tell if she actually wants love…  or is just hungry and wants me to hurry up so I can feed her.  This week I purchased one of those cat fountains that recirculates water in a bubbler sort of method and I was happy to see this morning she was drinking from it.  The first few days the cats all seemed to be confused and our middle cat Kenzie simply wanted to try and scoot it around the kitchen floor making a mess.

It seems to have reached a state of equilibrium and maybe just maybe the cats have sorted out what to do with it.  The fountain is an attempt to win a battle I have been having with my cats for years…  where they don’t like drinking from a normal water dish.  What they actually want is for me to leave a faucet dripping so they can drink from that, so in the winter time when we do that already to keep the pipes from freezing…  they love it.  The next best thing is a cup that I keep in the sink and fill up with water…  because that appears to be a consolation prize.  If I try just a normal bowl of water on the ground someone tips it over trying to play with it.

The water fountain we ended up going with stores three liters of water at a time, which gives it a significant amount of weight and helps against tippage.  I just need to sort out a routine of when exactly I need to fill it up, and in truth I should probably check it when I go back downstairs as it has been running a few days now.  For reference we wound up going with the Catit Fountain, which I stumbled onto after following an adorable link with a bird splashing around in it.  I remember looking at something like this years ago… but the price was considerably more and not within that “impulse buy” territory.  It is my hope that this fills the needed niche in my home and stops the constant begging me to turn on the faucet in the mornings.

I love my cats… but they are also sorta assholes at times.  The image at the beginning of this post is completely unrelated to anything I have talked about to this point.  The can of pumpkin that shows up in the parking garage in late march/early april…  is still sitting there untouched.  I am sorta hoping that I get to make a birthday post for the can some day.  At this point it has been sitting in the Oklahoma heat for roughly two months and walk past it on my way into the office each morning.  It will be a sad day indeed if someone takes it upon themselves to throw it away at some point.  The fact that it hasn’t happened yet shows a general sense of apathy that I find interesting… I have to admit I almost did it myself when it made it past the one or two weeks mark.  It was around then that I started to daydream about being able to hold anniversary parties for the can…  and stayed my hand.

Adventures in Product Placement

This morning I don’t have an awful lot to talk about.  I wound up watching two movies last night and don’t much feel like talking about either, so instead I am going to tell you a story of something that has been happening over the last week and some change.  Having a website as long as I have had mine means that you are ultimately going to run into a bunch of people who want something from you.  I get a regular stream if emails wanting to do paid product placement on my blog and I have written about this before.  I’ve gotten better at just instantly blocking an email address when I can tell someone is fishing for a paid placement, or in the case of the linked article that I just promote their site out of the goodness of my heart.  Side note…  this is a thing I do regularly but for things I enjoy/believe in or for people who I just generally think are awesome and that others should experience their content.

Recently I got an email from a manufacturer of a gaming specific product that wanted to talk to me about doing a review of said product.  Okay so right off the bat it passes a couple of my tests…  1) I am willing to review products and 2) it has to be something that I am interested in and that I think my readers might be interested in.  They also talk a bit about wanting to start a business relationship that could benefit my users which is always cool if I could provide discounts or something of the sort.  They did mention wanting to place a banner in my sidebar with a link, but that wasn’t an immediate no since if there was a decent discount code attached to it I would probably do that to offer it up easily to my folks.  I sat on this for about a week mulling over whether or not I should contact them back and whether or not it would be a good thing in the long run.

Almost exactly seven days to the date I responded back with an email talking about my terms for doing product reviews.  I talk about how I am willing to look at their product but I am not willing to promise a positive review and that I am only willing to link to their product if it is in fact something I believe in.  I talk about how the only way I am willing to have any form of a permanent side bar link is if they provide a discount code for my readers.  What I did promise is that I would give an honest assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the product and share that content with my readers and social media followers.  Having been through this before I fully expected them to just simply not want to do business with me at this point but I sent the email anyways.

After just stating that I would not agree to any terms ahead of reviewing the product I got back a laundry list of things in response…  completely ignoring anything I said in the previous email.  Here is what they wanted from me…

  • One written review with at least two dofollow backlinks and me to insert a number of specific keywords they requested
  • One video review of the product (I don’t even do these ever)
  • One post on twitter or other social media to promote the posts tagging them
  • Banner placement in my sidebar
  • Signing a contract stating I agree to all of this
  • The product would not ship until the banner had appeared in the sidebar
  • The discount code was some sort of a profit sharing thing…  which is not something I want.  I don’t want to profit from my readers.

Basically I stated that I would agree to none of that in my first response email, yet they rolled in and still threw it out there.  I responded back with the following email.

I apologize if I gave the impression from my last response that I would be willing to accept these terms. I realize as a manufacturer that you would love to have some assurances, but I am simply not willing to give you any. I’ve built my site on integrity and only passing things on to my readers that I completely believe in. That way when they know I am suggesting a controller or a computer accessory it is because I myself either am currently using it or have used it in the past and thought it was a great product. So I am not willing to sign a contract of any form with you or anyone else. I am also not willing to agree to any of your review terms, because I am not wiling to agree to that sort of thing ahead of reviewing the product. Nor will I agree to how much I will or will not promote your product, because again I have never experienced said product. Lastly I do not do video production at all so that one is completely off the radar from the sort of audience I have.

In the past I have simply not responded to requests for me to promote something on my sites. I have no interest in profit sharing, and the only reason why I was interested in some sort of a discount code was that if I chose to promote your product on my site that I would love for my readers to get some benefit from it. All of that said I am not willing to agree to any sort of promotion until I have seen and experienced your product to develop my honest opinion of it. I realize this is not the way you prefer to do business but this is the only way I am willing to do so. I also reserve the right to talk to my readers about my readers about what it is like to work with <INSERT COMPANY NAME HERE>.

I have a genuine relationship with my readers and followers and they know that I am not doing it to promote myself or to profit from them. As a result I only support products that completely believe in and without seeing your product there is no way I could feel comfortable agreeing to any of these terms.

I fully expect to never hear back again from the rep of said manufacturer.  I am not naming any names because hell they may shock me and respond with “okay, where do we ship it?” but I sincerely doubt it.   The truth is the product was in a range of products that I have never been able to suggest to folks because I have not had a great experience with any of them.  I would have loved to have had one that I could honestly support and suggest because it comes up pretty regularly in my timelines.  In video game reviews I have encountered plenty of folks willing to accept these terms, but in product reviews so far everyone has wanted some form of assurance that I am just unwilling to offer.  It frustrates me because I had hope that this one would be different and by the way the originally approached me it seem that way.  However they immediately went back to the same nonsense I have dealt with before, which is a massive disappointment.